This Floating Island Dessert Was One of Julia Child’s Favorites

A simple and beautiful way to end any dinner, this classic French floating island dessert will impress all of your guests.

Julia Child is known for helping American home cooks feel comfortable with complex French recipes. (Here are Julia’s cooking lessons we’re still applying today.) The movie Julie & Julia made her Coq Au Vin and chocolate cream pie famous all over again. One of her favorite desserts however, was a somewhat forgotten French classic: île flottante, also known as the floating island dessert.

Here are our favorite recipes inspired by the “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” author.

What Is a Floating Island Dessert?

This quintessential dessert is made of a cooked meringue served in a thick custard sauce. The meringue is the sweet island floating in an ocean of custard or creme anglaise (English cream).

What Is Served on Top of a Floating Island?

Spun sugar, caramel sauce or sugar art are used as a garnish to add color and a crunchy texture to the dessert. Since it is very sweet, a floating island is often served with fresh berries to provide a tart contrast to the sweetness.

How to Make a Floating Island Dessert

Julia’s dessert was a baked meringue served over a custard sauce. This recipe from Tonya Burkhard of Palm Coast, Florida is a little more approachable and produces similar results by poaching the meringue on the stove top. In France, this variation of the Floating Island Dessert is called œufs à la neige or “eggs in snow.”

Ingredients

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6-1/4 cups whole milk, divided
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup store-bought caramel sauce
  • 1 cup sliced fresh berries

Directions

Step 1: Get the egg whites to room temp

Place your egg whites in a large bowl; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Step 2: Create the custard

In a large heavy saucepan, whisk egg yolks, eggs, 1 cup sugar and cornstarch until blended. Stir in 4 cups milk. Cook over medium-low heat 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly until mixture is just thick enough to coat a metal spoon. Don’t allow your milk to come to a boil! Immediately remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl.

Place the bowl in an ice-water bath. Stir occasionally as mixture cools off for 5 minutes. Stir in 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla. Gently press plastic wrap onto the surface of custard. Let it chill out in the fridge for about 1 hour.

Step 3: Make the meringue

Editor’s Tip: This is a delicate process. Check out our tips before getting started.

Add cream of tartar to egg whites and beat on medium speed until nice and foamy. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on high after each addition until sugar is dissolved. Stir in remaining vanilla. Continue beating until the desired stiff glossy peaks form.

Step 4: Cook the meringue

In a large heavy skillet, bring remaining milk to a very low simmer over medium-low heat. Drop meringue by 1/3 cupfuls into milk; poach meringues 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until firm to the touch. Carefully place cooked meringues on a paper towel to drain. Repeat with remaining meringue, making a total of 12 pretty snowballs. Discard remaining milk.

Floating islands, fluffy poached meringue on a lake of custard made from egg yolks, milk, sugar and vanilla, topped with a caramel framework. This is a traditional French farmhouse dessert.Paul Cowan/Shutterstock

Step 5: Assemble the dish

Pour custard sauce onto a lovely dessert plate, and top with 2 to 3 meringues. Drizzle your dessert delicately with caramel sauce and garnish with a few fresh berries.

Voilà: You have your floating island dessert! If this recipe inspired you and you’d like to try cooking like Julia for a week, read this personal account for tips.

Try These French Desserts
1 / 42

Popular Videos

Mandy Naglich
Mandy is a food and beverage writer with bylines at WNYC, Munchies, Mic and October. She's a Certified Cicerone and award-winning homebrewer living, writing and cooking in New York City.